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Inventing Informality

Sheila Crane, University of Virginia, Mellon Fellow 2018–2019, Spring

Shantytowns constitute a dominant form of urbanization in cities around the world, particularly across the global south. The book manuscript I have been advancing at Dumbarton Oaks traces one thread within this broader global history: the emergence of urban landscapes described as bidonvilles (literally, container cities), or as karian (a Moroccan Arabic variant of the French word for quarry), first observed in Casablanca in the late 1920s and soon common across the Moroccan Protectorate, French Algeria, and later France. The library’s rich resources have helped me better understand the relationship between these urban developments and the earlier histories of these sites, shaped by, among other things, colonial agricultural practices and the Ottoman-era development of suburban villas with lush terraced gardens. Two early travel narratives held in the Rare Book Collection were particularly valuable in this regard. The library’s collection of histories of Maghrebi architecture written during the French colonial period were also critical for a second project, examining the architect Abderrahman Bouchama’s publications in which he theorized a decolonial architecture for Algeria in the tumultuous years immediately following independence. My essay on this material will be published in Architectural Histories in August 2019.